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2/18/17

Dutch Expertise: Dutch water expert who kept the Netherlands dry takes aims at rising seas in Miami, and the world - by Andres Viglucci

The Special Envoy for Water Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands leans over the railing separating the new raised sidewalk in Miami Beach’s Sunset Harbour neighborhood from the sunken well of the old one below, where a restaurant has smartly set up a dining patio with tables and umbrellas. He nods in approval and snaps an iPhone picture.

Henk Ovink, once the man in charge of making sure the flood-prone Netherlands stays dry, has been dispatched by his government to help the world figure out how to cope with sea level rise. He’s on a three-day tour of southern Florida, and has some good news and some bad news for two Beach officials who have spent Thursday morning showing off the first results of the city’s hugely ambitious, and expensive, effort to overhaul the way it builds streets, buildings and neighborhoods in response to the increased risk of inundation posed by climate change.

Not all is “doom and gloom” for the region, Ovink stressed. Florida is hardly the only place in the world where the grave peril posed by sea level rise has yet to fully sink in to public consciousness, he said. But it’s also a significant opportunity for South Florida, because the world will be looking to the region to develop what he called “transformative interventions” to deal with the looming crisis.

The good news, Ovink says: The Beach’s incremental approach, which involves rallying community support as it goes about raising streets and sidewalks, installing massive pumps to remove water, and rewriting its building and zoning codes under a plan to remake 40 percent of city streets within a decade, is not just good, but even exemplary.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article132057654.html#storylink=cpy

If you stand to lose everything, that might drive change,” said Ovink, who for a water expert wields a dry sense of humor. “If we can find a way forward in Miami, it can be an example for the world, though the challenge is huge.”

Ovink, whose visit was sponsored by the Dutch consulate in Miami, brought more than observations and advice. After his Wednesday evening talk, he and UM architecture dean Rodolphe el-Khoury signed an agreement for collaboration with the Netherlands’ Delft University, which has an institute in which architects, engineers, policymakers and experts in governance work on urban water issues, including sea level rise.

He also offered Buell help from Dutch experts on groundwater flow. The Beach has been working to understand the workings of deposits of water beneath the layers of its porous limestone base.

“I think we found a new friend,” Buell said.

Ovink cautioned that what works in the Netherlands or New York may not in South Florida, which is acutely vulnerable to sea level rise because of its porous limestone base — which encompasses several layers of rock and aquifers — its low-lying ground, and a combination of the effect of ocean currents and water temperatures offshore. One study he cited at UM estimates that Miami could lead the world in climate change-driven losses from a surge in extreme weather events by 2050, with $278 billion worth of property at risk.

That, he said, demands new mitigation strategies and creative, collaborative governance — something critics say has been scarce across South Florida. But Ovink said public officials have made some good moves, for instance by creating a three-county coalition to research and address sea level rise, even as Miami, the Beach and Miami-Dade County each have named a chief resilience officer to oversee and coordinate local response efforts. Those positions are funded through 100 Resilient Cities, a $164 million Rockefeller Foundation effort.

While Ovink praised a project that restored coastal mangroves in Broward to buffer the county’s port, he said Miami Beach is clearly leading the way. He endorsed the approach under Mayor Philip Levine of rapidly undertaking urgent improvements — Sunset Harbour came first because it was the city’s most vulnerable neighborhood, Buell said — while planning long-term for what he termed the “slow-moving emergency” of rising seas.

He cautioned that trying to do too much at once, especially if the citizenry is not yet fully on board with drastic changes, could impose unaffordably high costs, unnecessarily disrupt businesses and neighborhoods and risk a backlash. He agreed with the city administration’s decision to design higher new seawalls to just below the 100-year storm standard as a cost-effective compromise.

The entire Netherlands, by contrast, is protected from a 1,000-year storm, Ovink noted.

“We think we are safe. This is where the world needs to go within the next 100 years,” he said. “But I would always try to find a practical way forward. You don’t put all the burden on the future generation or on the present generation alone. Miami, the new Miami, will not be built in a day.”

Ovink plans to return to Sunset Harbour in the fall to see how the new infrastructure fares during King Tide, the period when tides are highest because the moon is the closest to the earth. The Beach has seen repeated dry-weather street flooding as seawater, propelled by the high tides atop higher sea levels, bubbles up through sewers.

“I think on a very positive note, you’re doing a lot right,” he told Buell and Daniels. “Next to doing these incremental steps for building resiliency, they also have to become the platform to think bigger. The vulnerability is not solved easily. For climate change and sea level rise there are no quick fixes, and it has to stay forever.

“You changed the culture on how Miami Beach lives with water. That’s an essential first step, to acknowledge and embrace that you will be doing this for the rest of your lives, and the lives of your children and grandchildren.”

Read more: Dutch water expert who kept the Netherlands dry takes aims at rising seas in Miami, and the world | Miami Herald

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